Though it may seem surprising, most legal rulings, despite being public domain, are not available for free to the general public. Harvard owns the most comprehensive collection of U.S. case files, a collection second only to that of the Library of Congress. The Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow believes that “law should be free and open to all,” though. In order to make that belief a reality, Harvard has partnered with legaltech startup Ravel Law to digitize its legal library. It will take a team of seven people to carefully take apart more than 40,000 physical books of case files and scan them. After all of the case files have been digitized, Ravel Law will make the database of legal research searchable and available online for free. Additionally, the creators of Ravel Tech hope to add the ability to visually represent connections between cases in order to better visualize patterns over time.
Though anyone will be able to access these digitized case files for free, this “Free the Law” project will also help small firms that are not able to afford access to large legal research databases like LexisNexis and WestLaw. Additionally, the creators of Ravel Tech hope that other innovators and nonprofits will be interested in developing their own search and analysis tools for the case files. These tools, search functions, and visual maps that Ravel Law hopes to implement will be especially important. Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard law professor and director of the law library, explains that, “It’s one thing just to access it in a book. It’s another to be able to build relationships among cases because nobody reads the law from cover to cover starting with the first book.”
Article via Buzzfeed, November 9, 2015